By Jennifer Calfas and Lisa Marie Segarra
Updated: February 6, 2018 4:14 PM ET

The highly anticipated first launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket is finally here.

Touted as “the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two,” the Falcon Heavy launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Tuesday at about 3:45 p.m. local time.

Here’s what to know about SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket.

What is the Falcon Heavy rocket?

The Falcon Heavy is a heavy-lift rocket producing up to 5.5 million lbs. of thrust in its first stage, with the ability to lift payloads up to 141,000 lbs. Whereas SpaceX’s smaller Falcon 9 rocket has nine engines, the Flacon Heavy has 27 — it’s essentially three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together.

Following the Falcon Heavy launch, SpaceX landed two of its nine-engine cores back on land and is waiting for the third to arrive. SpaceX has spent years developing a landing technique that allows the company to reuse rockets after launches, cutting down on costs.

SpaceX Falcon Heavy Static Test

When is the Falcon Heavy launch?

The Falcon Heavy launched on Tuesday, Feb. 6, at about 3:45 p.m. local time.

What’s on board the Falcon Heavy rocket?

Leave it to Elon Musk to find a way to use SpaceX’s historic rocket launch to promote his other ventures.

Aboard the Falcon Heavy is a cherry red Tesla Roadster, a recently unveiled design from his electric car company. The car’s stereo played David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ during the launch and was equipped with three cameras.

The car “will be in deep space for a billion years or so if it doesn’t blow up on ascent,” Musk had said in a tweet.

Why is the Falcon Heavy launch important?

A successful Falcon Heavy launch would be a major milestone for the private spaceflight industry, and for humankind’s space exploration efforts at large. Musk is also hopeful that the Falcon Heavy can help SpaceX achieve its goal of lowering the price of sending large payloads into space, TIME’s Jeffrey Kluger writes:

If Musk can deliver heavy lift at a low price, he could energize the entire rocketry sector, bringing the much-touted power of commercial competition to an industry that has been able to fatten up on a consistent diet of defense contracts without having to innovate much. More important, heavy-lift boosters are technology you can use not just to get to Earth orbit, but to get out of it too, pressing on to deep-space destinations like the moon and Mars.

But, as Kluger notes, that won’t be an easy task.

The workhorse of the fleet is the Falcon 9 which, as its name implies, uses a cluster of nine engines. The Falcon Heavy uses three of those clusters. That’s 27 first stage engines in total compared to the Saturn V’s five, the SLS’s four and the Delta IV’s three. The Atlas V, which can be configured with different numbers of first stage engines, maxes out at six. The more engines you have, the greater the risk of any one of them breaking down or blowing up and igniting the whole bundle. Acoustic resonance—basically out of control vibrations—also increases as the engine count climbs. Wonder how messy an accident with a rocket like that can get? Consider the Soviet Union’s heavy-lift N-1 booster, the country’s intended answer to the Saturn V. The vehicle packed 30 engines into its first stage and, during a launch attempt in 1969 — just 17 days before Apollo 11 landed on the moon — it all blew up, causing the largest non-nuclear explosion ever unleashed by humankind.


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